One of the big questions about casting a woman, Whoopi Goldberg, in the previously male role of Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was, Will she play it as a woman, or as a man when she takes over the role from Nathan Lane Feb. 11?
Jerry Zaks had said he wanted the answer to emerge during rehearsals, and in an interview with the New York Times Jan. 31 affirmed that Whoopi's Pseudolus will definitely be a "she."
But in an interview with the Sondheim Review quarterly, published in the current issue, co-librettist Larry Gelbart went into detail about the thought process behind the decision. Editor Paul Salsini granted permission for Playbill On-Line to quote from the interview, which was conducted by Scott Ross (completely via e-mail from California, according to the published account).
Here are excerpts:
* "Whoopi will be playing Pseudolus as a woman. We made a few line changes so that it is clear she is considering buying one of Lycus's courtesans for Hero. And Sondheim has written some new lines for her in 'Free.' She will not, of course, fixate on Gymnasia, but she will be attracted to Miles Gloriosus. ('Those are the mightiest thighs I ever have theen.')" * "I have always seen Pseudolus in very simple terms. He is the first banana in a comic play that features a large bunch of them. He is not "just" a slave but rather an example of how far a human being will go to achieve a goal. In the course of the play, he lies, cheats and even "kills" someone (creating Philia's pseudo death) to get the one thing he wants most in life, his freedom."
* "For Forum to reflect its original vision, whoever plays Pseudolus should ideally have experience in or an appreciation of the vaudeville/ burlesque tradition of comic performance. Pseudolus demands wall-to wall zest. It's not so much a matter of trying to be funny all night long, but rather going about accomplishing his task with almost manic force, employing tremendous energy, both physical and mental. An audience should feel Pseudolus thinking every second he (and obviously now, she) is on the stage."
* "It has proved impossible over the years to keep the various Pseudolii to stick to the book. I cannot begin to describe the care and determination Burt and Steve and I exercised in avoiding anachronisms and putting the finest of buffs on the show's speeches and lyrics. To see and hear that all cast aside for a line or piece of business that has absolutely nothing to do with what the show is all about ranges from anger to outrage, depending on the nature of the 'improvement'."
* "I have no idea what shtick Whoopi will bring to the show. After seeing Zero Mostel recite baseball scores in front of the House of Senex, there's not too much that would surprise me. I hope to attend a rehearsal before Whoopi opens to offer whatever help I can."
* "There is something decidedly unreal about having the show running on Broadway again. Living so far from the scene adds to the unreality of it even more. Just as well. My tendency is always to fret and to tinker. In the long run, I'm better off three thousand miles away from the action."